Review: Afterland by Lauren Beukes

“Afterland” caps a trilogy of brilliant thrillers I’ve read recently about mothers in extremis. Following Leah Swann’s “Sheerwater” and Kate Mildenhall’s “The Mother Fault,” Lauren Beukes’ “Afterland” follows Nicole (Cole) and her son Miles (Mila) who are on the run after escaping a United States government quarantine compound, in a world decimated by the human culgoa virus.

The H.C.V. pandemic wiped out 99 percent of men. Miles is a rare survivor, and a lab rat for scientists determined to find a cure. All Cole wants is to return with her son to South Africa where things may, or may not, be better — Beukes doesn’t elaborate — but at least they’ll be home. It’s just an unfortunate coincidence they were in America when the virus emerged.

“Afterland” is a  road trip novel involving mother and son (masquerading as daughter) working their way to Florida, where they hope to board a boat. They’re hunted by The Department of Men, who enforce the reprohibition law that forbids women to get pregnant, and prohibits the freedom of anyone with a Y-chromosome; and  Billie, Cole’s sister, who had plans to sell Miles’ sperm on the black market before Cole slammed a tire iron into the back of her head and fled.

The world of “Afterland” is perpetually dangerous and unpredictable, but not as despairing as Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road:” life, lead by women, has carried on. Though every facet of it isn’t explored — such detail would grind the narrative to a halt — it reads like Beukes knows every inch of her 2023 dystopia. Her novel is less about pell-mell action and hairbreadth escapes than it is about establishing relationships between its humans and demonstrating the changing landscape and shifting mindsets of its population. Indeed its best parts are devoted to the relationship between Cole and Miles, which flits between affectionate and antagonistic. Both have been hardened by their experiences, but their familial bond always conquers.

Beukes brings into sharp focus just how far a mother can go to justify certain actions in the name of her child. What comes first: being a decent human, or protecting who you love? In “Afterland” you can’t have both.

Published: 20 October 2020
ISBN: 9780718182816
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 464
RRP: $32.99

Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken MonstersBroken Monsters is one of the best paranormal and genuinely horrifying thrillers I’ve read in years.

Lauren Beukes’s fourth novel, about a possessed serial killer with a penchant for human taxidermy and an unquenchable thirst for attention, seamlessly fuses the unbridled ingenuity of Stephen King with the master craftsmanship of Michael Connelly’s police procedurals. With its integration of Reddit feeds, social media and text messaging, Broken Monsters is an unabashedly contemporary thriller, fresh in its approach and narrated with the stylish prose we’ve come to expect from Beukes.

The novel opens at a crime scene. Immediately we’re introduced to Detective Gabriella Versado, who is no stranger to working homicides, but has never seen anything like this: a young boy has had his torso attached to the hind legs of a deer. From there, the novel opens up, expanding to a cast of five characters, including Versado’s daughter Layla, a desperate freelance journalist, a homeless man named TK, and the monster who is obsessed with remaking the world. Their storylines play out separately, then coalesce powerfully in a pulse-pounding climax that had me sitting upright, desperately turning the pages. Layla was my favourite; a sassy young teen who is determined to do the right thing, but lacks the life experience to properly do so. The teen dialogue rings true – laced with expletives, wit and sarcasm – and the emotional moments between mother and daughter are just as strong. Their relationship feels real, despite the surreal circumstances they’re faced with.

A procedural glazed in the supernatural, Broken Monsters supplants The Shining Girls as Lauren Beukes’s crown jewel. It’s dark and terrifying, but keeps the gore to a minimum. It’s a fine balance, and Beukes nails the descriptions of the horrible sights her characters observe by providing just enough detail for the reader’s mind to extrapolate. They say perfection is unattainable, and maybe that’s true –but Broken Monsters is close to it. My expectations were astronomically high going in, and Beukes swatted them away and squashed them with ease, leaving me to wonder: what’s next?